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One of the biggest mistakes I see in romance and erotica writing is pacing. Characters meet, fall in love, and have a baby all in the space of a couple sentences and it just isn’t very realistic.
This isn’t to say that you can’t have your characters experience love at first sight, because they certainly can if that’s your thing. You just need to make sure the relationship is organic.
Hello, I Love You
To talk about pacing is to talk about descriptors. You can make your characters fall for each other as fast as you want–as long as it makes sense.
The Good Way: Romeo and Juliet
Perhaps the most famous example of love at first sight is Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. If you haven’t been living in a bunker for the last 700 years, you are likely aware of this play. When Romeo and his friends crash the party at the Capulet house, Romeo sees Juliet for the very first time and says this:
O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear;
Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear!
So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows,
As yonder lady o’er her fellows shows.
The measure done, I’ll watch her place of stand,
And, touching hers, make blessed my rude hand.
Did my heart love till now? forswear it, sight!
For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.
Romeo expounds on Juliet’s beauty and his love for her, making the whole set up for their eventual relationship more realistic. When they do finally speak, Juliet returns his affection and they actually have a conversation and some banter between them in order to further build their relationship. Shakespeare created a fully formed attraction between the two characters that builds as the play progresses, making their deaths at the end that much more tragic because the audience feels the love and despair of Romeo and Juliet.
The Not-So-Good Way: Unexplained Soul Song
I recently read a story in which there was a female lead character who starts dating a guy she works with. On one of their first dates, he invites her over to his house to cook her dinner. While they’re waiting for the food to finish cooking, the two of them are sitting in his living room and drinking beer. I’m paraphrasing what happens next, but this is essentially how it plays out:
“Want to listen to some music?” he asked.
“Sure,” she said.
He walked over to the record player and after a moment, “Sweet Child o’ Mine” by Gun ‘n’ Roses started playing.
“This song makes me think of you,” he said.
“This is my soul song,” she said. She had always wanted someone to listen to this song and think of her. “I love you.” She burst into tears and he picked her up, cradling her like a child as they swayed to the music.
That’s it. There are no earlier references to this song in the book, there’s no explanation, there’s just . . . crying. This scene has a lot of potential to create a deep connection between the two characters if the writer had explained why this song meant so much to her, perhaps through some kind of emotional flashback or explanation from the woman to her date. However, as it stands, this scene doesn’t make a lot of sense and the relationship goes from waiting for dinner to finish cooking to sobbing and being held like a child. Imagine if you’d watched this in a movie:
Man: Want a beer?
Man: Want to listen to music?
*music starts playing*
Man: This song makes me think of you.
Woman: This is my soul song.
It’s weird and uncomfortable and sounds like an underdeveloped student film. By jumping without warning from the banal to the overtly emotional, the audience can’t connect with the relationship between the two of them. Your readers want to be invested and they want to care if this relationship is the fulfillment of all of your character’s childhood dreams. But you have to set that up and make it organic instead of rushing to the finish line. If your relationship development is too fast, your readers won’t care if the characters get together or not. And if they don’t care if the characters get together or not, that defeats the whole purpose of a romantic and/or erotic story.
Touch Me Faster (or Slower)
The same descriptive principles apply to the pacing of sex scenes. Too often when writing scenes like this, I feel like people jump right into the action without any kind of build up. Remember the cardinal rule: anticipation is sexy! Even if your characters are having a one night stand in a bar bathroom, create a little bit of tension beforehand and make them eye fuck each other from opposite ends of the dance floor. Take your time in describing how one character feels under the gaze of the other. That way, when they have their tryst next to the paper towel dispenser, your reader really, really wants them to get it on.
However, with that being said, you don’t want to go too slowly in your sex scene either. Give your readers time to immerse themselves in your scene, but don’t bring the action to a screeching halt just because you want to cram in a few more descriptive words. Erotica readers often masturbate to the stories they read, and you want to give them a chance to find the flow, so to speak. You don’t want to end the scene too quickly, but you don’t want to take so long that everybody chafes before you get to the point.
As a basic template, consider some advice I found on reddit when I was first starting out with erotica writing: pay attention to the five phases of the sex act (pre-arousal, penetration or its equivalent, pre-climax, orgasm, and afterglow) and give each section at least one full descriptive paragraph. You can, of course, add and delete and expand as you see fit, but if you use this as a starting point, you’ll give your sex scene adequate pacing that’s fun for everyone.
I hope these quick tips are useful for your next scene. More than anything, just have fun with it. Sex is fun and your writing should reflect that, so get busy!
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